I’m almost half-way through Bernard Knight‘s medieval mystery, The Elixir of Death, so I thought I’d give a bit of a report. I’m finding it a fairly fast read. Many of the terms he uses I’m familiar with from reading other medieval mysteries but in addition to including maps at the front of the book, he has a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to the reader. So right away that makes it a book worth reading. (I must say, though, that a couple of terms I wasn’t familiar weren’t in the glossary when I went to look them up.) However, there are lots of great definitions there and the maps are wonderful. There is a two-page map of Exeter in 1195 A.D. with an inset showing where Exeter is in England. Then there is a second map of the area around Dartmoor where the story takes place showing the relation between Exeter and Plymouth, Salcombe, Dartmouth, and Revelstoke, where the protagonist, Crowner John, the coroner lives and works, with a close-up inset of the area around Revelstoke where most of the action is taking place.
There are many similarities between Crowner John de Wolfe and the Templar hero, Baldwin de Furnshill, of the Michael Jecks series which I like very much and have all that are out in paperback. (A little pet peeve of mine is that the paperbacks come out so long after the hard cover; hard covers hurt too much when you fall asleep reading in bed and they land on your face.) Similar in background and skill in soldiering, both heros have survived the Crusades, both are coroners and have a sidekick they can confide in and in whom they can trust their lives. However, the Michael Jecks hero married late (having been in the Templar priesthood) and is in love with his wife whereas Crowner John is in arranged marriage with someone he detests and he has a couple of other relationships which from time to time greatly complicate his life.
Both protagonists are coroners, upholding the king’s law and uncovering murderers and spies. In this episode of the Crowner John series, Prince John, Count of Mortain is plotting to seize the throne from his brother, Richard the Lionheart, and is mixed up with John’s brother-in-law, the disgraced ex-sherif of Exeter, Richard de Revelle and rumour has it that the King of France has sent support in the form of Saracens. There have been a number of deaths, some bizarre and all puzzling. Sir John de Wolfe suspects they are all connected in some way but so far the thread is escaping him and suspense is growing.
More to come.